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Event Report | How can science fiction writers save the world?

Frank Schätzing x Chen Qiufan

With the intensification of global warming summer no longer conjures up images of a beach scene with a light breeze, but has turned into a long and unbearable period with record-high temperatures. There has been a severe drought in parts of China and elsewhere this year, for instance, and these phenomena are forcing us to face facts and realize that human beings are confronting devastating climate change.


In this discussion, we invited two legendary writers, Frank Schätzing from Germany and Chen Qiufan from China, to discuss ” Visions for our Future: What if we Just Save the World?” and related topics. Li Shuangzhi, a professor of German literature at Fudan University and the Chinese translator of Steppenwolf (《荒原狼》), hosted the event.


Each one of us can take action when facing the climate crisis
Both Frank Schätzing and Chen Qiufan are very concerned with climate and environmental issues. Frank Schätzing’s The Swarm (《群》, 2018, Post Wave), a sci-fi horror thriller with a strong environmental theme, took the world by storm in 2004. After the success of that book, he used the remaining four-fifths of the data and research he did not get to use for his accompanying non-fiction title Nachrichten Aus Einem Unbekannten Universum:Eine Zeitreise durch die Meere (《海:另一个未知的宇宙》, 2018, Post Wave), which became a hot-seller as well.


Meanwhile, the representative work of Chinese writer Chen Qiufan, Waste Tide (《荒潮》, 2019, Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House), focused on how electronic waste will threaten the living environment of human beings.


Chen Qiufan said during the conversation, “such an extreme climate, it’s a concern we’ve long neglected to focus on, the entire global climate.” Chen has also published an environmental protection book for young readers Zero Carbon China(《零碳中国》, 2022, Anhui Children’s Publishing House). He said he wants to use storytelling methods to help more people truly understand the issue of environmental protection and start to take individual responsibility and action.


Frank Schätzing said if extreme actions are not taken, in the next five years the global temperature may rise to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius. “So all of this forces us to make some big changes. At the 2020 Climate Summit, we committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2060. So in this process, it involves transformation and upgrading of all aspects of industry, including the most important issue: energy.”


 AI (Artificial intelligence) is a mirror of the humanity
The two writers hold a very optimistic attitude toward the future development of artificial intelligence. Frank Schätzing said, “we have some people who are afraid of artificial intelligence. But actually, we have been living with artificial intelligence for many years. All these algorithms, whether it’s Google, Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. So, wherever we are, artificial intelligence is everywhere”


Chen Qiufan also believes that we need to use artificial intelligence to help us build a better future. A recent example he cited was the use of artificial intelligence to design a nuclear fusion power station. If the experiment is successful, this will be an inter-generational change. That being said, “technology is ultimately in the hands of human beings. It’s like a mirror, to let us see a better or worse self. But we need to let everyone understand it,” he said.


Science fiction lets us find each other
Science fiction has never been a fantasy of a “castle in the sky”, but a meditation and warning based on reality. The works of these two writers directly address social issues and closely explore the relationship between technology and human beings.


Frank Schätzing believes that by creating science fiction, he can to one extent maintain a beautiful childlike innocence, but can also expose the predicaments faced by human beings and deeply think about the relationship between technology and philosophy. For him, it is both a thorny challenge and a romantic journey.


As for Chen Qiufan, he believes that “through writing and science fiction, slowly I can reach more people who are interested in these topics, not only in China but all over the world. It will make me less and less lonely.”


Frank Schätzing and Chen Qiufan found as writers and thinkers that they shared a lot in common. In this year’s EU-China International Literary Festival, writers from across Europe and China will continue to share their views and get to know each other through literature and big ideas.



– Report by EU-China International Literary Festival team